Digital World: When words have double meanings

You've got the pop-up blocker, the ad images turned off and the Javascript down to a slow boil - but the ads still keep coming.

By DAVID SHAMAH
October 23, 2007 08:26
Digital World: When words have double meanings

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You've got the pop-up blocker, the ad images turned off and the Javascript down to a slow boil - but the ads still keep coming. This time, though, it's a battle for the heart and soul of the Web page; the ads are no longer hovering around, popping up hither and yon - they're actually part of the text you're trying to read on the page! You can't really blame Webmasters, though - they have to eat too. We have no problem using the information they've gathered without spending a nickel - information that 10 years ago we would have paid through the teeth for. We play their games, download their videos and MP3s, link to P2P sites using their dedicated servers - and it doesn't cost us a thing. Man, are we selfish! On the other hand, you don't have to feel too bad for popular Web sites - the big ones are doing very well, thank you. Here (http://tinyurl.com/2b2zhv), for example, is the price list for a Web site that ranks as the 80th most popular on Alexa (I can't imagine what the site does to achieve this ranking). A one-week text ad there will set you back $2,419 - but of course, you'll get exposure to over a million unique users a day. And advertisers line up to pay their money at popular sites; clearly, Internet advertising works. And that's a fair deal; sites that provide users with a positive and beneficial experience definitely deserve to be remunerated for their contributions. We generally have no problem putting up with ads, even the more annoying ones, at sites that give us something in return. The nice guys among us might even click on a link or two, keeping in mind that the more clicks from the site, the more ads get to the site, and the more likely the site is to survive. It's when we get down to the middling sites that have something to offer some people - but want to make money like the big boys. Actually, even the big boys want to make as much money as they can, but they have the good sense to know that you can't over-annoy the customers - otherwise they may take their click business elsewhere (of course, even users who turn off the banner ads and keep out the pop-ups are recorded as unique users by sites, keeping their "numbers" high and allowing them to charge more for ad space). The less useful sites have the same common sense, but the prospect of making big money does things to peoples' judgment - bad things. One of the bad things it apparently does is urge them to sign up for one of the more annoying Web advertising phenomena - keyword pop-up advertising. Those are the ads you see on text pages with certain words outstanding in blue or other colors, sometimes underlined - the ones that you usually just have to hover your mouse over in order to pop them up. This is the final showdown - the ads you can't escape from. They're not pop-up ads, you see; they're part of the actual text, just with a link to another Web page - which happens to pop up when you hover over it. The ad is not a pop-up in the traditional sense, so not all pop-up blockers work with them. And unfortunately, you can't hide them - they're an integrated part of the text that you're reading on the page, and even if you could hide the words, you wouldn't - because then you've have to guess half the words in the article. Eventually, you find yourself surrendering to the call of the click, and you have to make a choice - either you deal with it and check out the ads as you move your mouse around the page, or seek alternative sources of information. That might not work - keyword pop-up advertising is mighty popular today, and chances are the alternative sites you plan on visiting have their own links that pop up when you hover over them. The worst thing about these ads is their ridiculous context. You could be reading the most serious story about death and destruction, and suddenly find yourself looking at an ad for pizza, of all things. While some sites try to show a little restraint in their choice of ads, many don't - because some of the ad programs, like the immensely popular IntelliTXT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IntelliTXT), parse the page for you and attach ads on the most likely looking words, adding the double click on its own and rewriting the Web page (via a script). The company says it tries to keep ads "in context" with the contents of the site, but as IntelliTXT is among the most widespread text ad providers and their often-flawed handiwork is visible on many Web sites, it's clear that the contextual guesser they utilize is not flawless. As the link above states, it's almost impossible to get rid of IntelliTXT and its ilk; the service can outsmart pop-up blockers, and killing the cookies doesn't work. However, it would be unseemly for a large legitimate company like IntelliTXT publisher Vibrant Media (http://www.vibrantmedia.com/) "the in-text advertising leader," not to leave surfers with a choice. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way within the IntelliTXT universe to do so. In order to stop them from popping up, you have to employ external, third-party means. Just doesn't seem right, that they wouldn't leave folks an out. I guess they realize most people would take the out if it was offered! Fortunately, other annoyed people have taken on IntelliTXT and have come up with a number of solutions, such as the ones depicted here (http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/3637) and here (http://tinyurl.com/22g3ag). Not quite as big, but certainly more polite, is Kontera, makers of another text link system called ContextLink (http://www.kontera.com/). As an innovative company that "creates in-text relevance," Kontera is a responsible member of the on-line community - and although it keeps it as hidden as possible, the company does give users a way to opt out of the program (details at http://tinyurl.com/274yu5). And if the culprit is Snap Preview, you'll want to check out http://tinyurl.com/27wan7. But keep your eyes open - text pop-ups are here to stay, and new companies will no doubt come up with more sophisticated ways to shove them in our faces. It's an uphill battle! http://digital.newzgeek.com

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